Automation Industry Success Stories Abound

Too often, negative stories of potential job losses accompany discussions of the impact of automation.  However, success stories of automation’s impact exist all over the United States in communities and companies.     Growth has centered on robotics, Automated Vehicles (AVs), embedded and mobile technology, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and the disrupters of established industries.


Robots will continue to be a leading industry benefiting from the Automation Revolution.  According to PwC, Annual robots orders in North America surpassed 20,000 units from 2011–2013, and a surge in orders occurred in the first half of 2014. According to the PwC/NVCA MoneyTree Report based on data from Thomson Reuters, capital investments by US venture capital firms rose to about $172 million (in 10 investment rounds) in 2013, nearly tripling 2011 levels.  The number of global published patents for robotics technologies passed 5,000, the highest level ever, in 2013, up from about 1,400 in 2004.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is driving economic change from the steel industry to being the birthplace of innovation around the robotics industry.  Few can question developing and building robots is good business in the Automation Revolution.  Pittsburgh is seeing dramatic growth driven by the robotics industry—in fact, according to a recent Jones, Lang, LaSalle report, robotics and technology is serving as a major driver of leasing activity in the Pittsburgh marketplace. Research institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University are leading the way for communities like Pittsburgh. Carnegie Mellon University announced several economic expansions tied to the development of robotics industry including the creation of their Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute.  Pittsburgh’s tech growth has been fueled by investments by Uber, NASA, and Carnegie Mellon University-affiliated National Robotics Engineering Institute.

Manufacturing in the robotics sector is a strong market as well. Robotics parts maker ATI Industrial Automation plans to add 275 employees over the next four years in conjunction with a major expansion of its factory and corporate headquarters in Apex, North Carolina.[i]  The Raleigh area company’s revenue has been growing at a 20 percent annual clip in recent years, prompting it to invest a projected $6 million to nearly double its footprint by adding an additional 65,000 additional square feet, according to recent news report.[ii] ATI’s hiring list includes factory floor personnel, engineers, salespeople and administrative staff such as planners, Accountant and purchasers.[iii] Annual wages will range from $30,000 for hourly workers on the factory floor to $85,000 for engineers, and ATI projects that annual revenue will hit $70 million this year, up from about $60 million in 2016. [iv] Founded in 1989, the company’s flagship product is its Robotic Tool Changer, which enables attaching different tools to a robot so that it can perform different tasks and it also makes robotics accessories such as grippers, paint guns and arc welding guns that attach to the robots, as well as force torque sensors that let a robot know if it is pushing, pulling or twisting too hard or not hard enough.[v]

Automated Guided Vehicles

Connected to the manufacturing marketplace are the strong growth prospects ofthe automated materials handling industry. Automated material handling — comprising automated guided vehicles (AGV), automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), automated conveyor and sorting systems, robotic systems, automated crane and various software systems — isn’t a new concept.[vi]


An AGV is a vehicle that is driven by an automatic control system, which serves role of the driver in that vehicle.[vii] Sensors on the road or the infrastructure and on-board the vehicle provide measurements about the location and speed of the vehicle, which are used by the automatic control system to generate the appropriate commands for the throttle/brake actuators to follow certain position and speed trajectories.[viii] The vehicles’ working environment ranges from small offices with carpet floor to huge harbor dockside areas.[ix]  The global AGV market is projected to reach $24.61 B by 2020, growing at a 12.05% rate from 2015 to 2020.[x] The Boston Consulting Group estimates roughly 10 percent of today’s manufacturing functions are fully automated — and that number is predicted to reach 25 percent over the next decade, as robotic vision sensors, intelligence and gripping systems improve.[xi] In combination with industry growth and shifting workforce demographics, the automated material handling market is also being driven by improved wireless technology, particularly with regard to AGV.[xii]

The Disrupters

Disruption of existing markets is another prime opportunity using new technology.  Disruptors change an existing industry.  They create jobs and often destroy jobs but they succeed if they add value to a customer experience for a price that is usually lower.  Disruptors may also be small start-up companies or giant companies that still remember when they were a start-up.

Root Insurance is a Columbus, Ohio based company that is leading the technology revolution in the insurance industry.  Root Insurance sets rates based primarily on actual driving behavior, using variables that drivers control to give fair and accurate auto insurance rates. Since Root’s launch in Ohio, the insurtech startup has experienced continued growth, expanding to nine additional states, including Arizona, Indiana, Utah, Illinois, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. Root is the nation’s first carrier to leverage mobile technology and data analysis to base rates primarily on how individuals drive. While most traditional insurers calculate rates by categorizing drivers into demographic risk pools, Root takes a more personalized approach by using mobile technology to accurately understand which drivers are least likely to be involved in road incidents. To join Root, customers download Root’s iOS or Android app and drive for two to three weeks. Their driving behavior is then analyzed through a proprietary rating engine, which measures activity, such as acceleration, braking, turns and mileage. Good drivers then receive their quote and manage their policy entirely through Root’s smartphone app. Root Insurance is growing jobs and has continued success on the horizon.

The changing face of retail is both a threat and opportunity for communities.  The invasion of into the retail space has caused massive market disruption but this billion dollar behemoth is not going away.  Amazon receives a remarkable 44% of e-commerce purchases.  Considering the dramatic rise in Internet based purchases and the decline in purchases at brick and mortar retail stores, Amazon is America’s most powerful company.  Amazon is capitalizing on this market dominance by further changing the face of retail by moving to an instant delivery model for their goods.  That instant delivery system is driving the development of massive fulfillment centers spread over larger markets in the United States. Reports indicate Amazon built 26 fulfillment centers employing thousands of workers in distribution style facilities. The company almost doubled the number of its fulfillment centers — Amazon warehouses where goods are sent to customers— going from 58 in 2015 to 103 in 2016.[xiii] And it more than doubled the number of sortation centers and delivery stations — which make up Amazon’s internal distribution network — from 28 to 61, and Amazon almost quadrupled the number of Prime Now hubs, from 14 to 41 over the same timeframe.[xiv] v. Walmart

Facility TypeMarket CapWorkersCurrent FacilitiesCurrent Sq. FeetSales Revenue
Amazon Fulfillment, Supplemental & Return Centers$702.B541,00012192,260,621$177,877,000,000
Walmart Stores$310 B2,300,0006,363 US stores703,080,371$485,000,000,000

As the table above indicates, Amazon is running quickly toward Walmart in the retail market segment.  Amazon’s growth will likely drive new fulfillment centers to be launched by growing e-commerce companies such as Chewy (pet supply company) as well as traditional large scale retail companies.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Vehicles (AV) and embedded technology is a substantial automation-based market place.  AVs drive themselves without any human intervention, employing inbuilt software, sensors, and communication systems. Global AV market revenue, based on the sensors, hardware, software, services, regions, and autonomous vehicles types, is expected to grow 39.6% during 2017-2027 reaching $126.8 B by 2027.[xv]  Automakers are focusing on AVs to satisfy customer demand, to remain competitive and to improve their product portfolio.[xvi] Shared vehicle service models empowered by a Millennial generation less interested in owning a car are driving AV adoption rates projections as well, and, in the next couple of years, fully autonomous vehicles are expected to be launched.[xvii]

Pillar Technology Group, LLC is a computer software developer focused on disruptive technology and is a leader in the AV industry.  Pillar is enjoying explosive growth based in Columbus, Ohio but with offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Des Moines, Iowa and Palo Alto, California with plans for expansion projects across the U.S.  Pillar Technology is planning an autonomous vehicle lab and recently received a substantial private equity investment from NewSpring Capital to fuel the substantial growth the company is enjoying. The financing comes after a year of 30 percent growth for Columbus-based Pillar, which had $52 million in revenue for 2017 and is aiming to continue at the same trajectory to top $75 million this year according to CEO Bob Myers.  Pillar is to become anchor tenant on the top floors of the 711 N. High St. building when construction is complete. The company added 47 jobs in Columbus last year and expects another 50 local hires in 2018. Pillar currently has 163 Columbus employees, half its companywide 320; another 80 new jobs are expected in other markets this year.

The Autonomous Vehicle industry received a substantial boost when Ford Motor Company announced a billion dollar investment in Pittsburgh’s Argo AI.  Born out of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center, which has been a global leader in autonomous vehicle research, Argo AI leaders are formerly with the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.[xviii]  Ford intends to develop autonomous vehicles by 2021.[xix]  The current team developing Ford’s virtual driver system – the machine-learning software that acts as the brain of autonomous vehicles – will be combined with the robotics talent and expertise of Argo AI.[xx] This innovative partnership will work to deliver the virtual driver system for Ford’s SAE level 4 self-driving vehicles. Ford will continue to lead on development of its purpose-built autonomous vehicle hardware platform, as well as on systems integration, manufacturing, exterior and interior design, and regulatory policy management.[xxi] Argo AI will join forces with Ford’s autonomous vehicle software development effort to strengthen the commercialization of self-driving vehicles, and the company intends to add 250 high-tech jobs in Pittsburgh, Michigan and California.[xxii]


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.



[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.


[xii] Ibid.


[xiv] Ibid.


[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.



[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.